Arts Education: Doubt into Hope - a Wish for the New Year and Beyond
Hope is a pathway. One such path is made possible through the arts. I feel pretty lucky in that I've pretty much seen myself as hopeful in my life. I've also had a life filled with arts, as well as a family for whom arts remains central. I am often reminded that this is not the experience of many of the students I teach.
The semester just ended and my college students handed in their final projects and write-ups. I teach a class called "Learning Through the Arts" at California State University San Marcos, in southern California. The final for this class, rather than a test or research paper, is a 3D sculpture that the students create to demonstrate an understanding of how they view the role of arts in education.
The students in this class are preparing to become elementary school teachers. Most students who attend my university commute, many live at home, and the majority work to put themselves through college. We are located in northern San Diego County where nearly every public school qualifies as having 35% or more students on free or reduced school lunch. Many of the students who come to the university campus grew up in Spanish speaking or bilingual homes, and as an institution we have the distinction of being named a "Hispanic-Serving" institution. There are also quite a number of Asian-Pacific students, thus bottom line, a truly wonderful mix of students on campus.
One sculpture caught the attention of the class and really made an impression on me. My student, Sergio, created a piece which he titled, "Broken Dream." It is a piece that is about 6 inches high and is basically a decorated stick-like adorned figure on a base and with wings. The head is a cylinder with eyes, several lips, and a question mark on the back of the head. The figure sits on a base with numerous eyes.
This is some of what Sergio wrote about his sculpture:
Many students' dreams are broken by disbelief, doubt, and society. However, with the help of art, students can reach great altitudes and find greatness. The question mark on the back of the sculpture's head represents doubt; doubt that steals the dreams of students. Doubt makes many students believe that they are not capable of achieving great things in life; doubt that deprives students from getting a good education. All the mouths around the head represent the negative voices that corrupt students' minds. The voices in their minds come from their parents, siblings, friends, and teachers; voices that tell them that they are not capable of doing great things in life. Voices that stay with them for a long time.
The eyes and mouth at the bottom of the sculpture represent society, a society that holds back students from getting a good education because of their culture, race, color, gender, beliefs, and learning abilities. Society can be inconsiderate with students. The text around the sculpture's body represents knowledge; knowledge obtained with no purpose. What good is all the knowledge in the world if a student does not have a purpose or reason to live for? What good is knowledge if no one believes in a student's abilities?
The wings on the sculpture represent art, for art can give students freedom to find their abilities and reach greatness. Art can be used to inspire students with disbelief and doubt. Art can give a student purpose. With the help of art, students can reach great altitudes and find greatness.
When Sergio presented his sculpture to our class, we all fell silent. We all knew at that moment of the truth Sergio presented in such an eloquent, and poignant manner through his sculpture. I thank Sergio for sharing his truth and experience. He has given me a renewed sense of urgency in arguing for the enormous capability of kids, and a passion to squelch the inadequacy of our educational system as a piece of the puzzle that serves to create doubt.
So, for the new year, may there be a renewed passion to put arts central to education, and to change doubt into hope. This is by no means an easy task - but if each and every teacher can take the time to uncover capability in at least one or two students each week, we'll be on the road that leads to the altitudes and greatness that reside within each and every child, and in doing so, be an agent to inspire hope and fulfilled dreams.